Pinellas News

Dunedin Elementary to give out nearly 500 loaded backpacks

— Dunedin Elementary teachers and administrators had high hopes for its new Neighborhood Knock program, but the outpouring of support has outpaced expectations.

“It is unbelievable what is happening here. I’m overwhelmed,” said first-year Principal Kerry Apuzzo.

Neighborhood Knock involves collecting as many donated bookbags stuffed with supplies as possible and then traveling throughout the community to distribute them to family’s with schoolchildren in need. Eighteen teams of three to four people each went around neighborhoods from 10 a.m. to noon this past Wednesday, Aug. 13.

The idea was borrowed from a similar concept initiated by Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslem in 2012, according to that state’s official government website. Dunedin Elementary teachers Ivonne Alvarez and Dana Robinson approached Apuzzo with the idea this spring and it didn’t take long to gain plenty of local support.

“Ever since then everyone at the school has been working their tails off,” said Apuzzo, who is beginning her 31st year with the Pinellas County School District. She spent the past 26 at Ozona Elementary. “We’ve reached out to the community, I’ve met personally with pastors from churches ... the forces have gathered.

“What started as a grassroots idea … I am just overwhelmed.”

Overall, nearly 500 backpacks filled with supplies were collected for distribution and the school received assistance in a variety of forms from all over.

Pinellas sheriff’s deputies offered bring computer equipment that would help identify homes of families with Dunedin Elementary students in need of assistance. The Dunedin Blue Jays provided supplies. Local businesses donated items and some came together to provide lunch for the Wednesday distribution teams after canvassing neighborhoods.

Apuzzo gave special thanks to the National Title Networks office in Oldsmar, which promised to provide 65 loaded backpacks and showed up with 278. “If you saw this office you would not believe what this place looks like right now,” she said about the piles of bookbags waiting to be given away.

Apuzzo has only been Dunedin Elementary’s principal since May, appointed to lead the change-over at a school that received a failing mark on its annual School Accountability Report last year. Just about four months into her time here, she said she sees why a quick turn-around can be accomplished.

“What a community Dunedin has shown me to be,” she said. “It’s unbelievable.”

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